'Homestuck' Creator Andrew Hussie on the Legacy and Future of His Epic Webcomic

Encompassing more than 8,000 pages of material, 10 official soundtrack albums and four hours of video, Andrew Hussie's sprawling epic webcomic Homestuck has been called " the Ulysses of the internet." Since its 2009 debut the internet-based hybrid work consisting of illustrations, gifs, interactive minigames, animation and chat logs has racked up more than 2.5 billion page views and merchandise sales topping $10 million. Homestuck also spawned hundreds of thousands of fan works, from cosplay and fiction to music and art. Today marks the release of the first in a series of deluxe hardcover editions of the comic from Viz Media, featuring new cover art and page-by-page commentary from Hussie.

By the numbers, it's clear Homestuck is a big deal. A really big deal. But what's it about, anyway? That's a little tougher to explain.

"I usually keep it simple. I just say it's about kids playing a game," Hussie told Newsweek. "It's better not to say too much, because you can spook people, or overwhelm them. There's plenty of time for them to have that experience once they're deep into reading the story. But by then it's too late. When you make something, ideally you want to trick as many people into reading it as possible. Don't make a lot of sudden movements, or give up the game too early. Just set your trap, make some modest statements, and wait for people to finally realize on their own what they've gotten themselves into. That's how you win."

John in his room in the opening moments of 'Homestuck.' Viz Media

Homestuck is rooted in gaming culture. The story kicks off with thirteen-year-old John Egbert wrangling with his own personal inventory management system to access his arms, akin to some of the menu-driven mechanics you'd find in a RPG. He's anxious to crack into the beta version of an upcoming PC game, Sburb, a sandbox-style game in the mold of The Sims or Minecraft. Unfortunately, the effects of the game aren't confined to a virtual space, but are instead superimposed on the real world. Eventually joined by his friends Rose, Dave and Jade, he discovers that playing Sburb has unwittingly resulted in the destruction of Earth. Henceforth, the friends must use the game as a means of creating a new universe. Those familiar with EarthBound (Mother 2 in Japan) might see why Hussie cites the SNES classic as having "good subject matter to work with."

Early on, Hussie's story was shaped by fan contributions, with members of the Homestuck community determining the names and actions of the characters. By 2010 the fanbase had grown considerably and became difficult to manage.

"By the time I moved away from the reader-suggested commands, there were too many suggestions for that approach to even be that meaningful anyway," Hussie explained. "The original idea was based on a small readership. When the crowd got too big, it just turned into a lot of noise. So dropping that didn't change much about the process, except to eliminate the pretense that it ever mattered all that much in the first place.

Still, Hussie continues to be inspired by the fandom's prodigious creative output, which he describes as "more art, music, cosplay and such and I could ever keep track of."

Rose takes on her cocktail-loving mother in 'Homestruck,' with commentary from Hussie below. Viz Media

While others might cringe at the prospect of poring over their past work bit by bit, Hussie's enjoyed revisiting his massive creation in minute detail for the Viz hardcover release. "It's all pretty funny in hindsight, and appears to have aged very well, at least for me personally," he said.

He's also unfazed by the attention the comic has drawn from academic circles, seeing it as a logical target of scholarly investigation. "People are going to study things that are complicated. There's a lot to explore. The 'answers' are all in the books. But there will be a lot of books. It'll take a while to get them out. So the scholars out there agitated for all the answers will just have to wait," Hussie told Newsweek.

Waiting is something Homestuck fans of every stripe have gotten very familiar with over the last decade or so. Hussie announced the Kickstarter campaign for Hiveswap, an episodic adventure game set in the Homestuck universe, back in September 2012. Despite raising $2.5 million from would-be players, the game met with a series of delays, changing development studios and eventually making its debut five years later, in September 2017. A follow-up, Hiveswap Act 2, will debut sometime this spring.

Hussie hinted that fans could expect more of the unpredictable twists the series is known for in the next installment. "The first game was just Act 1. The Homestuck tradition is for the first act to feel pretty tame, and for things to get pretty wild after that. We'll see if that pattern holds," he said.

The release of Homestuck Book 1: Act 1 & Act 2 is the first offering from what will be an ongoing partnership between Hussie, Viz Media and What Pumpkin Games, which will produce additional content and merchandise based on the Homestuck universe. Hussie is keeping his cards close to his chest on the topic for now. "It's mostly the books we're focusing on getting out at this point. There will surely be some other things in the works, but it's probably too early to say," he demurred.

Homestuck Book 1: Act 1 & Act 2 retails for $24.99. The book is also available digitally via the Viz Media official site and the Viz Manga App, as well as from the Nook, Kobo, Kindle, iBooks, comiXology and Google Play stores. Future volumes of the series will be published quarterly.